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Amy Tyler School of Dance


By Beverly C. Tyler

The end-of-year recital at the Amy Tyler School of Dance was as different for the students, parents and staff as the pandemic that caused the show to be moved outside at the rear of the studio on Reeves Road in Port Jefferson.

Tyler and her husband, John Worrell, decided to build a stage at the back of the studio property for rehearsals and the shows — and hope for the best weather.

The program, held this past weekend, was called “Broadway Rewind,” and featured the music of 11 of the Broadway shows that closed on March 12, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show was also dedicated to the eight high school seniors who are dancing for the last time with Tyler.

Last year’s “The Nutcracker” was canceled and the 2020 recital was staged only on Zoom, so Tyler very much wanted the students to have an in-person year-end recital. Worrell, who handled not only the building of the stage but the backdrop, said he was pleased and gratified with the help he received from a number of parents and community members who pitched in to supply materials and assist in the construction.

Tyler, with the help of Emma Gutmann, undertook painting the scenery, which featured the Broadway shows “Beetlejuice,” “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Wicked,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Tina,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Hamilton,” “Sing Street,” “Frozen,” “Six” and “Jagged Little Pill.”

“We were trying to figure out something that would play well on the stage,” said son Ryan Worrell, who wrote the script. “Something that addressed the pandemic in a way that wasn’t bearing down of the side of COVID, COVID, COVID. So, we decided that we would do all musicals that were open the day New York shut down. We addressed the issues of COVID-19 in the opening of the show, saying, ‘What if the pandemic didn’t happen?’ [It was] two hours of entertainment to pull you into the world where there was no pandemic.”

Comsewogue High School senior Sara Jaffie, who has been dancing at the Amy Tyler school for 14 years, said it was nice to have something normal again.

“To have this recital is really special,” she said. “Everything was canceled but school, including ‘The Nutcracker.’ I’ve been looking forward to my senior year since kindergarten — dancing on stage, doing my solo. It’s really special to have it.”

Abigail Nam, who is finishing ninth grade at Comsewogue, has been dancing with Tyler for 11 years.

“I really enjoy tap class now that I’m older and can do more skill stuff,” she said.

Her mom, Kathleen Gallant, was one of Tyler’s students starting at age 4 in 1988 for a few years.

“I wish I had stayed — I’m so glad they are able to dance this year,” she said.

When Zoom classes and limited in-person classes began this year, with all of the requirements for masks and social distancing in place, Jarek Furjanic, who has been dancing with Tyler for 11 years, said, “Now I have something to look forward to. I took more classes than normal. I like tap the best.”

He has also had speaking parts for the past four years. This year he and Marlo Pepe mimicked the opening of “That Beautiful Sound” from “Beetlejuice,” and then joined 16 company dancers in Tyler’s choreography of the song.

“It feels like family here,” said Michele Diodato, who is a speech pathologist at St. Charles Hospital. Diodato danced as a student with Tyler for 10 years until 2010. She returned as a teacher for the summer camp in 2017 and has been teaching jazz, tap and lyrical dance each school year since.

“This is my hobby, to teach what I love to kids,” she said.

Janine Ingrassia has been teaching with Tyler for 15 years.

“It’s so exciting to be back in the classroom, see them all bounce back … the resilience of the kids,” she said.

Ingrassia teaches mostly tap. She also teaches the beginning students — 3 and 4-year-olds. Before the pandemic they had just a pre-ballet demonstration for parents. This year they danced in the recital to “Let It Go” from the Broadway musical “Frozen.”

Ingrassia stood behind the audience where her six very young students could see her showing the choreography she had taught them. At the end, they received the loudest applause of the entire evening from the audience.

Each of Tyler’s teachers choreographed at least three of the 26 dances in the show with six solos and the finale choreographed by seniors.

Tyler’s daughter Cassidy, 14, has been dancing for 11 years and is very happy with this year’s changes.

“There’s lots more practice with the new stage,” she said. “Get to do a lot more skills — acrobatics, acting and interacting with more people.”

Jack Worrell, Tyler’s son, just completed his first year at SUNY Purchase studying studio production and did the sound engineering at the recital.

“Last year, with Zoom, the kids were not retaining as much of the information,” Ryan Worrell said. “In terms of health protocols, as soon as it was safe to bring them back, we did. A few kids were getting it all — most were only retaining what they had in previous years rather than experiencing any growth. When we had to announce that we weren’t going to do ‘The Nutcracker’ we had a lot who were very upset — their last ‘Nutcracker,’ or their first, or their first on pointe wasn’t going to happen. Last year with the recital on Zoom we didn’t see the kids give it the heart and soul we usually see with them in person. Once they get on stage it changes. There’s something that happens on stage that you don’t see in the [dance] classroom.”

The result this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday early evenings was two hours of delightful music and dance — and no one enjoyed it more than the students who were transported into a world where, for a brief moment, the pandemic of the past 15 months ceased to exist.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society. He is also Amy Tyler’s father.

Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three, won't be playing the role of Scrooge in-person this season. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

Local theatergoers are saying “Bah Humbug” this Christmas because two of their favorite traditions will not be happening.

During the holiday season, families would gather to watch Scrooge confront the ghosts of his past, present and future. In another venue, little children would admire ballerinas in white tutus up on their toes. The Rat King would clash with the Nutcracker.

But because of the COVID-19 crisis, two staples in the Village of Port Jefferson’s art community — Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” and Harbor Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” — have been canceled, leaving these two nonprofits hoping for a brighter 2021.

Jeffrey Sanzel, in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, is working on a new virtual play, ‘A Carol for Christmas.’ Photo by Julianne Mosher

According to Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three, between 12,000-15,000 Long Islanders have viewed their production of “A Christmas Carol” over the last 35 years.  Sanzel has portrayed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge 1,437 times. “This is the first time in 33 years I’m not doing a stage production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” he said. “It’s a shame, but I don’t want to do anything to exacerbate the problem.”

In a pre-COVID world, the theater would run the show six days a week with anywhere from 50 to 60 performances per year. Around 30 local actors would take on multiple roles of Charles Dickens’ characters.

After speaking with the village, he and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant considered an outdoor, socially distanced performance of the treasured production. Sanzel said they had it all figured out; it was going to be four 15-minute shows — a smaller adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” — with a minimal cast, at Harborfront Park.

“I got a cast. We went into rehearsal, and then the governor’s office told [the mayor], ‘No,’” he said.

Three weeks ago, the village received word from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office that they were not allowed to host an event outside that could draw a crowd. “I was all for it, and the actors were all set,” he said. “We were right down to discussing what they need to wear under the costumes when it’s below zero outside, socially distanced, in face shields.”

So, it was back to the drawing board. Sanzel and his team decided to create a free, virtual performance that will be filming this week. Titled “A Carol for This Christmas,” it will be available for viewing on Facebook, Vimeo and the theater’s website (www.theatrethree.com) in mid-December

“In a period of two days, I cast it, wrote it and went into rehearsal again,” he said. The 45-minute film will be set in a closed theater and features six actors playing the many roles in the story. The actors will be filmed socially distanced, in various parts of the theater, while wearing masks.

Sanzel said this would be the theater’s gift for the community. “This will be our contribution,” he said. “The actors have all donated their services because they’re just happy to be doing something.” He hopes that this event will keep the theater’s name alive and bring attention to an industry that is struggling hard throughout this crisis. “We want people to know that we understand what’s going on in the world,” he said.

This weekend would’ve marked the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival’s 25th anniversary, an event that always kept Theatre Three busy. The announcement of its cancellation this year is devastating for the community, said Sanzel. “The Dickens Festival brings people into the village,” he said. “It’s a great weekend, and even if people aren’t seeing the show, they become aware of the show and buy tickets for the future.”

Amy Tyler
Worrell had to cancel the Harbor Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’ this year. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Amy Tyler Worrell, who owns Amy Tyler School of Dance up the hill on Reeves Road with her husband John, agreed. “People who are coming to town can go out to dinner in Port Jeff and then come see ‘The Nutcracker’ or go shopping,” she said. “Being able to go out to ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ gets people excited.”

Worrell’s studio is celebrating its 33rd year in the Port Jefferson community. Within the school is the couple’s nonprofit, Harbor Ballet Theatre, which puts on ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School during the Dickens Festival. This would have been their 29th year.

“My family — my parents, my husband, my kids — all helped out with it,” she said. “But there are a lot of other families here who had the same experience. It’s kind of a letdown for them.”

When COVID-19 began in March, the studio needed to shut its doors and move to online classes via Zoom. They couldn’t hold their annual recital in June in-person, resulting in doing it online. During the summer, they found out they couldn’t hold their ballet in-person this December.

“The families say this kicks off their holiday season,” she said. “Some of the parents are in the show, some help backstage.”

And while ‘The Nutcracker’ is a family affair, it’s also a growing experience that students won’t be able to participate in this year. “We had seniors this year who have done the show since they were little angels,” she said. “It’s rough.”

In a pre-pandemic world, the dancers would audition in the late summer. Every weekend they’d rehearse for the big show. “I think what the kids are missing is being together and building something together,” she said.

Although things might look a little different for the arts this season, the hope is that the traditions will continue on next year.

“I think ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a story that resonates with audiences; from a six or seven-year-old, who comes for the wonder of the story … to a teenager who sees the frustration of the characters, to adults who look at their own lives and hope,” Sanzel said. “I guess the bottom line is when people look at the story and see that Scrooge can change and be better, so can we.”